We keep hearing about the “new normal” but what does that look like for your business? There is no doubt about it – our personal and professional lives will forever be changed by COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic. For businesses, the ability to set up and manage a suddenly remote workforce was challenging. Some companies already embraced remote work and had the technology, policies, and management strategies in place to handle this. For most, they were forced to figure it out on the fly in the reality of shelter-in-pace regulations.
Many of these companies were never fans of remote work and did not believe employees could be productive outside the office. Much of that has changed now as their eyes have been opened as to how teamwork and collaboration can happen despite everyone working from distributed locations. There have been many reports of how employees enjoy the flexibility of being able to work outside the office and would like to continue this arrangement. Big tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have stated that they will continue to extend these remote work policies on a more permanent basis.
So the question remains what happens as our states start to open up and businesses are allowed to have their employees return to the office? Do you go back to having everyone under one roof or do you continue to allow your team to work from home, or wherever they may want or need to?
If your company is going to embrace this shift moving forward there are a few things that will need to change now that you have time to approach this in a more organized manner:
Some of these technology decisions may have already been addressed during the last 2 months when everyone scrambled to work from home but it’s possible stop-gap measures were put in place. Now with the time to plan and think it through what does your team need to be able to work from anywhere?
Access to Files and Documents
You need to think about what files and documents people need in order to work together. For some, a VPN that allows employees to remote into the office is the right choice but for many companies having a cloud-based file sync solution like Dropbox or OneDrive makes more sense. This would allow people to access their files using any device (including smartphones and tablets) without the need to make a connection to the office.
For many, this may already be in place. Whether it’s Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, or one of the other tools available you will need a way for people to meet, see each other, and share screens in real-time so they can simulate sitting across from each other at a conference room. This can also be used to meet with vendors, customers, and clients.
With people possibly working at different times, or from different time zones, you will want to have something in place that supports asynchronous communication and collaboration. This prevents bottlenecks by making sure projects can move forward even though everyone is not available at the same time. Email is asynchronous but it’s certainly not the best choice. Solutions like Microsoft Teams, Teamwork, and Basecamp are just a few options that allow people to share documents, have threaded chat discussions, keep shared task lists and calendars.
Cellphones might have been sufficient to get you through a few months of working from home but for a more permanent solution you’ll you will want to consider a cloud-based VoIP phone system. A VoIP phone system allows employees to use desk phones from their homes or a mobile app on their smartphones as a seamless part of your business phone system. This means features like ring groups, 3-digit dialing of extensions, calling out using the office caller ID, and more all work the same way they do if you are in the office. That ensures your coworkers, clients, and customers all access you the same way they always do without having to know where and when you are working.
The other side that many companies struggle with is the management shifts necessary to lead a virtual or distributed team. While these can be overlooked for a short term solution if you are going to truly embrace a more distributed style of working your managers will need to adjust their way of thinking and leading.
Manage by results
Many managers are not comfortable managing people they don’t “see” and find it hard to know if they are working. They are accustomed to what is known as “eyeball” management which basically boils down to judging whether someone is working by seeing them at their desk or sitting at their computer. To manage a distributed team it’s important to find measurable and manage by results rather than perceived activity. This shift will result in much better management and ensure projects stay on task.
If you have implemented technology that allows for asynchronous communication and you make the change to managing by results you can allow your team to be more flexible and shift the times they work. For information workers as long as milestones and goals are clearly defined there is often no reason why everyone needs to be working from 9-5. Allowing employees to manage the time they work provides much greater work-life balance provided they are available to team members for important real-time meetings or calls. This is a huge work benefit, especially for the younger workforce, and will help you attract and retain the most talented employees.
The benefits to your business
There are a number of benefits to your business by providing a flexible work environment not the least of which is for business continuity and disaster recovery. Despite states moving toward opening none of us know what the future holds. There could certainly be another wave of this pandemic and those that are prepared can weather the storm. While embracing distributed and remote work to the full extent we are describing might seem challenging it does have another huge benefit to your business. If you can provide the technology for virtual teamwork along with asynchronous communication and time-shifting it allows you to hire the best people for your company regardless of location. Rather than a limited pool of local talent, you can literally hire someone from anywhere without requiring them to relocate.
If this intrigues you watch Basecamp’s founders discuss working remotely in this live stream. It is long but full of great insight and experience from their experience running a fully virtual company. They also wrote an excellent book called REMOTE: Office Not Required.
So what does the new normal look like for your business? Most likely not the same as it did before. How will what you’ve experienced and learned shape the future of work for your organization?